Philip Rafferty: Top five books of 2016

I’m really excited to be a new part of the CFL team. My reviews are appearing on the site and there are more to come. This has been a great year of crime fiction reading for me. A lot of pulpy titles have come out and come my way. My top five list is a combination of the new, the old, and the future. What a great year of reading, hope yours was as well.

5 – Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen
The king of Key West is back with another great read. Hiaasen’s latest follows the title character Razor Girl, as well as a cast of crazy characters, through a series of hijinks that center around a Duck Dynasty-like reality star who has gone missing. Hiaasen’s lovable Detective Yancy comes out of retirement to work on the case.

Razor Girl is a series of wild and unfortunate events that is farcical and delightful. Hiaasen’s gift for absurd satire is grounded in his odd details and delicious backstories. Think Elmore Leonard meets Tom Robbins meets rum and key limes. The book jumps around between a few main plot lines and, while they all are fairly satisfying, they mostly serve as a vehicle for Hiaasen romp through his zany, over-the-top Florida. Razor Girl functions as great satire most of the time. Read the review here.
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4 – Quarry in the Black by Max Allan Collins
With a presidential election looming Max Allan Collins’ mercenary Quarry finds himself with a political assignment: assassinate the African American Civil Rights leader and candidate Reverend Raymond Wesley Lloyd. Quarry makes no haste and heads for Ferguson Missouri to go undercover.  A hate group also wants Lloyd dead and Quarry gets mixed up in the middle.

Quarry in the Black is full of steamy sex, seedy dialogue, and quick turns. The political threads of this book are reminiscent of the current American political struggles making this throwback a timely read. Quarry in the Black is a great introduction for people looking to get into the Quarry series and it works as a standalone novel. Another strong title from Hard Case Crime.
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3 – Sunshine Noir edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley
The collection from the editorial team of Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley is a pointed response to the current flood of Scandinavian crime fiction saturating the market. Alfieri and Stanley argue that crime fiction is not a dish best served cold but rather at its most sinister when the sun is beating down overhead and sweat is pouring into your eyes. The collection is made up of 17 short stories from across the globe, all taking place in sweltering lands. It’s a mixed bag, some stories outweigh others, but the book as a whole does not disappoint. Blue Nile by Paul Hardisty is a standout amongst the collection. His story of an engineer who travels to Africa to fix an important dam at the brink of war as rebel forces move in is touching, literary, and gripping. The Woman of his Heart by Nick Sweet is a fun, Elmore Leonard-like crime tale set in Seville, Spain and concerns the death of a local, a Russian, and the contents of an explicit DVD. Be sure to check out the great stories here from Michael Stanley, Jeffrey Siger, and Colin Cotterill. Read my review here.
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2 – Sinner Man by Lawrence Block
Block’s long-lost book is one of his best. When Don Barshter accidentally kills his wife he goes on the lam. Assuming the new identity of Nat Crowley, Barshter seeks to establish himself in the criminal underworld of Buffalo, New York. The transformation of Barshter into Crowley is delicious to watch in this book that never drags. Block does some fun stuff with the 50s here, Barshter being the embodiment of the 1950s American suburban dream culture while his new persona Crowley is drawn into the cool, hip, beat generation archetype. Fans of Mad Men, pulp classics, noir fiction will all delight in this recovered gem. Read the review of Sinner Man.
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1 – Normal by Warren Ellis
Warren Ellis’ Normal is a technothriller set in the Oregon woods at a technology detox center called Normal Head. The protagonist Adam Dearden is a Civic Futurist whose job it is to gaze into the abyss of the future and look for solutions to global problems. But after suffering a strange occurrence while on a job he lands at Normal Head. The facility is a wonderful mash-up of similar and reminiscent false utopias. Think Magic Mountain, Kesey’s Cuckoo’s Nest, and Wayward Pines. At the center of the novel is a locked-room mystery, where a patient at the facility vanishes and is replaced with a pile of bugs. Dearden and his fellow inmates try to solve the mystery of the disappearing man and in turn uncover something bigger than all of them. A tight, quick and perfect read for our surveillance age.
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Find out what other CFL contributors chose as their top five here.

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